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The Rev. James Williams believes that God's plan includes people of faith mentoring children of promise so they don't fall out of society.
To help pay for the effort, he turned to President Bush's controversial faith-based initiative program, making Pastor Williams' church one of two organizations in northwest Ohio recently to receive money through the program.
His James C. Williams Center of Advancement, a nonprofit community organization associated with the Tabernacle of Faith Church in Toledo, will receive $102,000 each year for the next three years to start a program that mentors children of inmates held in the Lucas County jail.
"There is a great charge upon us to help mold the development of these young people who have been disappointed by the adults in their lives," Mr. Williams said. Without the federal grant, he said "it would have been very difficult to start this mentoring project."
Started by President Bush four years ago, the faith-based initiative was designed to level the funding playing field for small church and community organizations competing for government funding. In March, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives announced that it had awarded more than $1.1 billion to religious charity groups.
But officials with small local community groups say that navigating the bureaucracy that goes with receiving government money can be tough. And since its inception, the faith-based program continues to face stiff opposition from some organizations that view it as an assault on the Constitution.
"We are very much concerned about this program because it raises constitutional concerns about the separation of church and state," said Joe Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington-based religious liberty watchdog group founded in 1947.
He said the faith-based initiative gives private religious organizations federal money and then allows them to discriminate against some people in their hirings. Mr. Conn also said faith-based groups have been receiving funds through the federal government for many years, but with stricter rules on how they spend the money.
"The President wants to do away with those safeguards, and that is why Congress has never passed the faith-based and community initiatives bill," he said. Instead the program was implemented by a presidential executive order.
"I think the President's program misled faith-based and small community groups into thinking that there is new money that is going to be available somewhere, and that simply is not the case," Mr. Conn said.
Steve Anthony, executive director of the First Church of God Social Outreach Ministry in Toledo, is familiar with the problems associated with applying for federal funds.
Mr. Anthony, who oversees an outreach ministry of several community programs in the Toledo and Lucas County area, said "part of the problem of pulling in federal funds is that you have to be able to match the funds that you receive through the government."
This is a major obstacle for small community groups applying for federal funds, said Krista Sisterhen, director of the Ohio Governor's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Created by Gov. Bob Taft and the Ohio General Assembly in 2003, her office is a one-stop processing center for organizations applying for funds through the faith-based initiatives program.
Ms. Sisterhen noted that the difficulty for many small organizations is that they don't have the technical expertise for applying for federal funds, which is critical because receiving money through the faith-based initiatives program requires knowing the proper federal government agency that has money available for a particular program.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides most of the available funding through the program, but the money is scattered throughout various federal departments.
Ms. Sisterhen contended that knowing how to apply for the money is no good if an organization is too small to receive the funds. "Government tends to grant money to larger organizations," she said. "My hope is that these groups can understand the landscape."
The RIDGE Project in Holgate, Ohio, was successful in securing an $800,000 faith-based initiative grant for sexual abstinence programs by creating a consortium of agencies in Henry County and 10 other northwest Ohio counties to handle the money.
While Ms. Sisterhen would not draw a threshold, she noted that a small community organization seeking federal money ought to have at least a $300,000 annual budget and five staffers.
"We're trying to encourage partnership of different groups in the community. We propose to them that they partner with another organization to expand their size," Ms. Sisterhen said
Size matters because an organization must be able to match a percentage of the federal dollars from its own coffers.
Pastor Williams knows what it takes. In order for his center to qualify for and win the federal grant, he had to guarantee that the center could secure 25 percent of $102,000.
Mr. Anthony said that can be a tough task for a nonprofit entity like his, which oversees more than 10 community programs and when the people doing the groundwork have to raise money just to pay their own salaries.
His outreach ministry, which was established as a nonprofit in 1989 includes an array of community programs such as an ex-offender ministry, a maternity home for young unwed mothers, a school-suspension alternative, and a summer camp program that goes to low-income housing projects in the Toledo-Lucas County area.
One of the programs Mr. Anthony hopes to expand with more funding is the school suspension alternative program his organization has been running at McTigue Junior High School, 5700 Hill Ave., Toledo. The program, he said, has seen more than 100 students with behavioral problems change their attitude and performance at school.
The First Church of God Social Outreach Ministry operates on a $400,000 annual budget. Mr. Anthony said he was initially hesitant to apply for federal money through the faith-based initiative because he didn't want to become dependent on the government.
"We want to run a solid nonprofit with a solid private funding base because we want to be able to survive in any political climate," he said.
That can be easier said than done, said the Rev. Larry Clark, executive director of the Toledo Metropolitan Ministries. He runs a faith-based nonprofit agency that is funded by six religious denominations and has been active in the city since the mid 1960s.
"Fund-raising for small community organizations is very difficult right now," he said. "It's really not a good time to start a small community organization. The amount of money out there has decreased, and the people applying for it have increased."
Pastor Clark, whose ministry has never sought federal funding through the faith-based initiatives program, said he advises small community groups to shore up their funding base from private sources because "there is no huge cache of faith-based money out there."
While the federal program might have opened up a few more funding avenues for some nonprofit organizations when it was implemented, he said it has not done a lot for small community groups.
In September, Ohio won a $750,000 grant from the Compassion Capital Fund, which was established in 2002 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to assist grass roots organizations in tapping faith-based monies.
Ms. Sisterhen, of Ohio's faith-based initiatives office, said staffers from her office will be crisscrossing the state in an effort to train grass-roots organizations on how to apply for and receive funds through the faith-based initiative.
There is a general misunderstanding of how small faith-based and community organizations can apply for funding through the federal government, explained Ms. Sisterhen. Many small community organizations around the state, she said, need to learn how to organize themselves in order to receive federal funding.
"A lot of these small organizations have no mechanism like a strong executive board to help them with fund-raising or to qualify for nonprofit status, which is critical in applying for federal funds," she said.
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